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First P-72 Maritime Patrol Aircraft Delivered to Turkish Naval Forces Under the MELTEM-3 Project

Issue 104

December 11, 2020 Within the scope of the MELTEM-3 Project carried out by the Presidency of Defense Industries (SSB), the first P-72 Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) was delivered to the Turkish Naval Forces with a ceremony.

Vice President of Defense Industries Serdar DEMİREL, Turkish Naval Forces Naval Aviation Group Commander Rear Admiral (LH) Alper YENİEL; on behalf of the main contractor LEONARDO, Deputy General Manager Nadia STEINER; on behalf of the subcontractors, President & CEO of Turkish Aerospace Temel KOTİL, HAVELSAN General Manager Mehmet Akif NACAR, ASELSAN Vice President Bayram GENÇCAN, CEO of MilSOFT İsmail BAŞYİĞİT as well as THALES Aircraft Director Levent TAŞKIN attended the ceremony held at Turkish Aerospace facilities.

Today, the Turkish Naval Forces Command defends Turkey's national interests in its continental shelf and surrounding seas, especially in the Eastern Mediterranean and Aegean, with 6 P-235 Maritime Patrol Aircraft that successfully serve as a strategic element of the Turkish Armed Forces. Following the commissioning of 6 ATR-72/600 Maritime Patrol Aircraft capable of carrying out Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW) and Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) missions, after several years of delay, the Turkish Naval Forces will gain a critical capability to control and protect the Blue Homeland, which has more than 8,300 km of coastline.

Within the scope of the MELTEM-III Project, 2 ATR-72/600 utility aircraft in the multirole configuration were delivered to the Turkish Naval Forces Command in 2013. The structural modification activities on the ATR-72/600 Utility Aircraft with tail numbers TCB701 and TCB702 were performed by the Prime Contractor Alenia Aermacchi/Leonardo at Napoli-Capodichino and Torino-Caselle facilities. To this end, the aircraft were equipped with new radio sets and an IFF system. 

The contract of the Meltem-III Project, covering the procurement of a total of 6 ATR-72/600 aircraft and their modification into ASW and ASuW configuration for the Turkish Navy, was signed between Alenia Aermacchi S.p.A and Turkish Aerospace (TUSAŞ) in July 2012. The agreement is an amendment to a previous deal signed on July 20, 2005 and became effective in April 2006 between Alenia and the Turkish Government for the delivery of 10 ATR-72/500 ASW aircraft to the Turkish Navy (in May 2013, Finmeccanica later declared that the contract amendment included 6 ASuW and ASW + 2 Utility Aircraft).

Within the framework of the project, as the Main Sub-Contractor of Alenia/Leonardo, all related modification activities to convert the ‘green’ ATR-72/600 in ATR-72/600 TMPA will be carried out at Turkish Aerospace’s facilities. Turkish Aerospace’s work share includes Kit-A and tools manufacturing, procurement of material and support equipment, structural and electrical modification, assembly, test, Ground Flight Support, and Integrated Logistics Support (ILS) activities.

In a written statement, the Presidency of Defense Industries also shared that following the delivery of the first Maritime Patrol Aircraft, 2 additional Maritime Patrol Aircraft and 1 Utility Aircraft are also planned to be delivered to the Turkish Naval Forces in 2021. According to the information we have received, following the 2 Utility Aircraft delivered in 2013, the other aircraft to be procured under the MELTEM-III program (6 in total) will be delivered in the AsUW and ASW configurations. In this context, with the delivery of 1 additional Utility Aircraft, the number of aircraft delivered under the MELTEM-III program will be 9 in total, including 6 Maritime Patrol Aircraft and 3 Utility Aircraft. Will Turkey procure this utility aircraft with its own sources or it will be procured without cost from Leonardo due to the delay penalty? This is not yet clear. 

According to Turkish Aerospace, all deliveries will be completed until 2022.

With the completion of all deliveries within the scope of MELTEM-II and MELTEM-III Projects, the total number of Maritime Patrol Aircraft with Anti-Surface and Anti-Submarine Warfare capabilities will increase to 12.

P-72 Maritime Patrol Aircraft Payloads & Missions 

As part of the MELTEM-3 Project, the P-72 Maritime Patrol Aircraft were integrated with critical systems such as Advanced Radar, Electronic Support Measures (ESM)&MWS antennas, Acoustic Processing Systems, Tactical Data Link & Link 16, Chaff & Flare dispensers, a bubble canopy, fuselage doors that can be opened in flight (IFOD), a MAD sensor, a sonobuoy launcher, a reconnaissance radar, torpedo pylon, and forward-looking infrared (FLIR) cameras as well as Lightweight Torpedoes (MK46 and MK54) carrying and launching capability. 

The aircraft will also be equipped with an advanced command control and navigation system, a surface and air radar, and IFF inquiry system, an infrared display system, a magnetic anomaly detection system, an acoustics system, a sonobuoy dropping system, a self-protection system, advanced combat and link systems, a torpedo launcher control system, and a surface search and rescue support system.

Thanks to these systems, the aircraft will be able to conduct critical missions such as Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW), Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR), Over the Horizon Targeting, and Search and Rescue (SAR).

MELTEM-III Operational Capabilities

ATR-72-600 ASW/ASuW aircrafts will be assume a key role to protection of the Turkish continental shelf and sovereignty zone in eastern Mediterranean. A briefly have already mentioned above the critical missions undertaken by the Aircraft. Well, How, they will be executed the challenging ASW/ASuW missions? 

Our Senior Editor, Mr. İbrahim SÜNNETÇİ had shed light on the ASW/ASuW missions and general features of the Turkish P-72 Maritime Patrol Aircraft and said:

“The ATR-72/600 ASW/ASuW aircraft can carry the weapon load on two pylons on the fuselage sides (lacks the underwing pylons for external payload due to their wing designs) will additionally feature the Link-16 Tactical Data Link and Mk54 Lightweight Torpedo capabilities. Via the Link-11 Tactical Data Link System operating at the HF band, data communication could be conducted up to the range of 200km+ at the Line of Sight (LoS). The engineering support required for the integration of the Mk46 Mod 5 and Mk54 Lightweight Torpedoes to ATR-72/600 TMPAs would be provided by the Raytheon Company. 

The ATR-72/600 does not have an internal weapons bay; instead, carries its weapon load on two external pylons on the fuselage sides. Although installing the pylons on the sides of the fuselage prevents the wings, the most fragile elements of the aircraft, from being affected by excessive loads, the external weapons load considerably reduces the aerodynamic performance of the plane, thereby leading to increased fuel consumption and reduced mission performance. Moreover, the very slow cruising and patrol speeds (patrol speed of ATR-72/600 is 130 knots-240km/h) create additional drag (air resistance), which further affects the aircraft’s performance to a certain point. Thus, the pylons are installed tangentially on the lower edges of the fuselage.  Technically the ATR-72/600 MPA platforms can be equipped with four pylons in total, two in front of the landing gear bays, and two at the rear of the aircraft). Two additional pylons can also be installed on the plane just behind the front landing gear. The pylon on the starboard side (right) of the fuselage can carry up to 200kg and generally carries the Spectrolab SX16E searchlight and Thiokol LUU-2B/B flare launcher. The Spectrolab SX16E searchlight, which can work in both visible and infrared lighting spectrums, has a power of 100 million candles and can be slaved to the movements of the ‘spherical’ optronic turret. The Thiokol LUU-2B/B launcher has a capacity of 6 illumination flares. The pylon on the port side (left) of the fuselage, on the other hand, can carry a pod-mounted 12.7mm FN M3P machine gun. 

Each pylon weighs around 40kg and has a maximum capacity of 1,000lb (454kg). The ATR-72/600 can carry two 324mm lightweight torpedoes (about 250kg), depth charges (around 160kg), Penguin Mk2 Mod 7, NSM, SOM-J (all around 400kg), or the lighter Marte Mk2/S and its new version Marte ER Anti-Ship Guided Missiles with two pylons on either side of the fuselage. In the standard configuration, two light torpedoes can be mounted on the front pylons and two depth charges on the rear pylons. As an alternative to bombs, two Penguin (AGM-119B) Mk2 Mod7 type Anti-Ship Guided Missiles can also be mounted on the pylons. The pylons need to be modified for use with other types of missiles. However, neither the Turkish Maritime Patrol Aircraft platforms to be delivered to the Turkish Navy nor the four P-72A aircraft operated by the Italian Air Force can launch Anti-Ship Guided Missiles.

The mission duration of an ATR-72/600 MPA platform in the ASW role, let’s suppose that a Maritime Patrol Aircraft detected a periscope, identified the target and launched two torpedoes at the hostile submarine while performing a submarine warfare mission at a distance of 200 nautical miles from its base at optimum cruising altitude and speed (5,000ft surveillance altitude and 130 knots patrol speed). In this mission profile, the aircraft can stay in the air for 6.5 hours. The MPA can operate for approximately 8.5 hours, considering the approximately 1,000-nautical mile distance and the 6-hour patrol time, including the 30-minute attack time. In this case, the maximum flight time of the aircraft (10 hours in Search and Rescue mission, more than 8 hours of this is reserved for surveillance mission) will be just over 2 hours in an operational area 600 nautical miles from the base, and 3.3 hours in an operational area 400 nautical miles away.”

The Role of Domestic and National Industry in the Project

Extensive participation of Turkish Industry was ensured within the scope of the project. Turkish Aerospace carried out detailed parts manufacturing, aircraft modification, material supply, ground and flight test support, and Integrated Logistics Support activities.

Aselsan provided various equipment under the project. The aircraft are equipped with the Link 11 and Link 16 systems developed by MilSOFT, and The Maritime Patrol Ground Station was updated by HAVELSAN to support P-72 aircraft.

Thanks to the support of the SSB to improve the capabilities of the Turkish Naval Forces, various systems were made operational and ready for service. Additionally, several air, sea, submarine, and logistics projects are underway that will further strengthen the Turkish Naval Forces Command's combat and logistics capabilities.

Furthermore, the SSB plans to provide the Naval Forces Command with the necessary support to operate and maintain the procured systems by launching 3-year logistic support service for the mission systems on the Maritime Patrol Aircraft in 2021.